French left field open as Hol­lande bows out

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

PARIS:

French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande’s dra­matic an­nounce­ment that he will not seek a sec­ond term opens the way for his Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls to make a bid for power in next year’s in­creas­ingly open elec­tion. Hol­lande’s de­ci­sion to bow to his­tor­i­cally low ap­proval rat­ings and step down next year opens up the left­wing field in an elec­tion that is prov­ing more and more un­pre­dictable.

Valls, who had been a loyal prime min­is­ter to Hol­lande un­til re­cently but hinted at the week­end he might run against his boss in planned left­wing pri­maries, is now ex­pected to throw his hat in the ring. Polls show how­ever that no left­wing can­di­date will reach the sec­ond round of the elec­tion in May. Sur­veys cur­rently tip rightwing Repub­li­cans party can­di­date Fran­cois Fil­lon to be­come pres­i­dent, beat­ing far-right Na­tional Front (FN) can­di­date Ma­rine Le Pen in the runoff.

But af­ter a wave of pop­ulism swept Don­ald Trump to the White House and led Bri­tons to vote to leave the Euro­pean Union, no-one is dis­miss­ing Le Pen’s chances of vic­tory. The full field of can­di­dates re­mains un­known and the role of in­de­pen­dents such as Hol­lande’s 38-yearold for­mer econ­omy min­is­ter Em­manuel Macron is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict.

Tor­rid pres­i­dency

In a solemn TV ad­dress Thurs­day in which he de­fended his trou­bled four years in power, Hol­lande said: “I have de­cided that I will not be a can­di­date.” The 62year-old So­cial­ist has en­dured some of the low­est rat­ings of any post-war French pres­i­dent and a new poll re­leased just be­fore his an­nounce­ment showed he would win just seven per­cent of votes in the first round of next year’s elec­tion.

His term has been marked by U-turns on ma­jor poli­cies, ter­ror at­tacks, a sickly econ­omy and em­bar­rass­ing rev­e­la­tions about his pri­vate life. Valls hailed Hol­lande’s de­ci­sion as “the choice of a true states­man”. The French press greeted the news with front-page head­lines pro­claim­ing “The End”, “Good­bye, pres­i­dent” and “Hol­lande gives up”, but there was also praise for his de­ci­sion. “It is a rare politi­cian who sees clearly enough to re­move him­self from power in the in­ter­ests of the greater good,” the left-lean­ing Lib­er­a­tion said in an ed­i­to­rial. Some 80 per­cent of the French pub­lic said they ap­proved of Hol­lande’s choice, ac­cord­ing to a poll by Har­ris In­ter­ac­tive pub­lished yes­ter­day.

Even if Valls now de­cides to stand him­self, the Span­ish-born pre­mier faces an up­hill task ac­cord­ing to opin­ion polls which give him no more than 11 per­cent of the votes in the first round of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. The So­cial­ist party be­gan ac­cept­ing can­di­dates on Thurs­day for its pri­maries, due to take place on Jan­uary 22 and 29. Ar­naud Mon­te­bourg, a left­ist for­mer econ­omy min­is­ter, has al­ready sub­mit­ted his name. Fil­lon, the fa­vorite for the elec­tion, said Hol­lande’s time in power “was end­ing with a po­lit­i­cal mess and the fail­ure of power”.

— AFP

PARIS: French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande de­liv­ers a speech af­ter award­ing the Le­gion of Hon­our (Le­gion d’Hon­neur) and the Na­tional Or­der of Merit (Or­dre Na­tional du Merite) to Olympic and Par­a­lympic ath­letes at the El­y­see Pres­i­den­tial Palace.

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